Misadventures with Miso

Misadventures with Miso

Monday, November 17, 2014

An Autumn Harvest Vegan Dinner at Departure

Many moons ago I was vegetarian. It was tough finding places that served vegetarian food and even tougher finding vegetarian food that wasn't seasoned with bell peppers. But times have changed and so I decided to see just how much by attending Departure's Autumn Harvest Vegan Dinner created by Chef Gregory Gourdet.
First up were the vegan drinks. Root Down consisted of Cazadores Blanco tequila, red beet and ginger juice, agave and fresh lime. Topped with a mango slice. Not overly sweet but really nice combination with the tequila.
The Pioneer made up with Jim Beam rye whiskey, averna, apple shrub and apple juice. Thin apple slices for a garnish. Very smooth and ever since drinking this I have had a hankering for whiskey in apple juice.
Our first course arrived and it's the one that got me wanting to go to this dinner. Onion and mushroom tart. Almond flour crust. Rosemary, ginger and charred peppers added even more flavor. I admit to removing a few chili peppers from this. I liked this dish so much I ended up making tiny onion and mushroom tarts a night ago.
 Roasted multicolored carrots and semi-dried beets in a carrot-coriander broth and pomegranate syrup. Amazing how changing up the simple carrot can bring a dish to a new level.
 Another amazing thing was the view behind me. Looking out towards the Willamette River.
A take on a winning menu item at Departure. Fried brussels sprouts and sunchokes. Smoked garlic, yuzu kosho, pickled chilies and shiso. I've only recently been introduced to sunchokes and each time I love them.
 Time to take it up a notch with the plating. Spiced roasted squash with cranberry, kale juice, pumpkin butter and creamy cashews. Filling and quite delicious. Chef Gourdet is a master of flavors and this dish represented his talent for that. I say flavors because of instead of mixing everything together into a homogenous mess, one can find different tastes in one dish. The secret is having them complement each other and work together.
 We were then served this green juice which we guessed was kale.
Could South America be in the future for Chef Gourdet's Compass Series? Sweet potato, dried chili and chocolate, similar to a mole and definitely reflective of South America cooking. Seasoned with pumpkin seeds, ginger and cumin. This was for me the spiciest dish of the night but I did enjoy the perfectly cooked sweet potatoes.
I'm going to say it again, Chef Gourdet knows deserts and does them very well, serving up a Persimmon and Huckleberry cheesecake. I thought coconut milk was used for the cheese cake and it worked really well. With delicious Kaffir lime sherbert sprinkled with tasted like matcha green tea. I don't usually eat desert when dining out but if they all were as good as what I've had at Departure then I'd probably just eat deserts for dinner.

Departure is up top at  525 SW Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon 97204
Their website is here.

Chef Gregory Gourdet is continuing his excellent Compass series with Haiti as the theme for next month. You can check in with Departure at their Facebook or Twitter accounts to see when to make reservations.

Very glad I had a chance to try another special meal by Gregory Gourdet. No surprise that he is one of the Top Chefs in Portland.

Let me add the beautiful produce was provided by Groundwork Organics. Always should remember where our food comes from and the hard work that goes into growing it.
Groundwork Organics website is here

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mushroom Weather

The weather this year must have been great for mushrooms like these I saw at Rood Bridge Park the other day. Seeing so many like this made me a little hungry.

These may be Horse Mushrooms or Agaricus Arvensis. They were so large and did not have any yellow staining.

Horse Mushrooms are edible fungi but since I'm no expert I was not about to find out.

Another day another place and more mushroom bounty.

Although these mushrooms are not so good to eat. Amanita Muscaria or Fly Agaric mushrooms.

I'm always surprised when I see these because each time I have it's at a public parking lot. Not the best place for something like this. Supposedly after parboiling they are not poisonous but I will pass on trying it.

These too were reaching an impressive size.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Masu Sushi in Portland March 2013

I never know what to expect when I go to a new place to eat. Reviews can be read but they all come from the perspective of that specific diner and their likes, dislikes and their personal dining history. It's even more difficult when it comes to Japanese food. So I enter each place wondering if I will find something that I can add to my personal this is good list or another generic bento/sushi roll shop that permeates the American dining scene.

I don't remember why I was in Portland one afternoon but I do remember it was warmer than I expected. And that I wanted decent sushi and that I wanted to try one of Portland's many Japanese restaurants. So I ended up at Masu. As the only diner. Don't take that as a bad thing, it was the middle of the afternoon when most people don't have a meal.

Since my objective was sushi I sat at the sushi counter. I like being able to look at the fresh fish and sometimes chat with the sushi chef. To me this is part of having good sushi. I was served a complimentary bowl of octopus with cucumber, Tako Su or Tako no Sumomo. I usually pass on octopus but this time I did try it.

However I was here for nigiri. So up first was hamachi (yellowtail) and sake (salmon). And just looking at the photo again I know this was excellent fish. The hamachi was buttery and the sake was one of two wild caught salmons being offered. Seriously take wild caught over farmed when you are having sushi. There are so many good reasons why it's better. So far I was very pleased with the offerings.

Another temptation offered up was dungeness crab served gunkan style. I also remember this. Light and delicious. I watched the sushi chefs preparing the fish for the nightly diners while enjoying my meal and learned a little of the head sushi chef's experience with making Japanese food.

A bit of unagi or anago which I can't resist. And the one way to see how good a sushi chef is, try their tamago. Both are sweet so I like to pair them towards the end of a meal. I very much enjoyed this. I could tell the quality of the preparation of the rice and the uniqueness of the tamagoyaki added to the enjoyment. I could tell this sushi chef was serious about Japanese food.

Time for maguro and I could tell this was nice fish again. There are differences with maguro besides there being different parts of a tuna that are served as different types of sushi. This was very good fish. Speaking with the chef he told me of his time working in Japan at a restaurant there. I know there is a difference in the focus of cooking at better restaurants in Japan. Quality and doing something right even if you have to repeat it over and over. Some decide it's not worth it and and some take it to heart. Definitely not the first catagory at Masu.

 Last up was fresh sake (salmon) wild caught out of the Puget Sound if I remember correctly. It's things like this which differentiate sushi restaurants. Sushi is not something that you can skip quality on and have good food. That plus having a head chef that knows Japanese food, not just basic recipes but the ideas that go along with it. Turns out that great chef at Masu was Ryan Roadhouse. My surprise later on was finding out he was the person behind the new Japanese pop-up Nodoguro. Definitely a good surprise since not only is he serving up excellent Japanese food but has a great team of people working with him. I'm happy to have found two very good Japanese restaurants in one seating.

Masu is at 406 SW 13th Avenue, Portland, Oregon

More good news is that Ryan has started omakase service at Nodoguro. So far it's a couple nights a month and they sell out fast. If you want to get your sushi on follow Ryan Roadhouse and Nodoguro on Twitter or sign up for their email newsletter. Nodoguro's website is here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Compass at Departure or Yes Chef Gourdet Can Do Fish with Fruit


The other day I had a chance to finally visit Departure Restaurant in Portland. Known for it's roof top view which lived up to their reputation. Sadly the outside was not open but still pretty darn amazing even from inside.

The reason for visiting was the chance for more fine Japanese dining. At a one time seating for the first of a series of dinners called Compass which feature food from different locations in the world.

This was the first dinner which featured Japan. Eight courses put together by a chef in Portland who is rather well known.

Chef Gregory Gourdet, current Top Chef participant who likes to bring the heat.

There was a sake pairing with the meal but since it wasn't stated that it was a separate price prior to the event I just went with a glass of Sakemoto Jumai.

The first dish was a soft egg topped with sake cream and caviar and sprinkled with katsuobushi which is dried bonito. This dish was inspired by Chef Gourdet's cooking days in New York. It was really delicious and a great way to start this meal.

Next up was Oysters Three Ways. Buckley Bay oysters were paired three ways. I believe left to right is pickled cactus and jalapeno juice, trout roe with lemon and dried chili, last iswasabi granita, kyuri and shiso. The salty roe with the fresh oyster made the middle oyster really stand out in flavor.

Nigiri followed the oysters nicely. The toppings were anago, sawara, tako, hiramasa. The anago was simmered in tamari, sake and mirin and was amazing. Softest tako I have eaten and the little bit of chili paste on top actually worked well with it. Excellent nigiri.

This was the either the hiramasa (yellowtail) or sawara (Spanish mackeral). Usually I can tell but both lighter fish were tender and delicious plus I was a bit overwhelmed by how amazing everything. By looking I think it was sawara.

Chef Gourdet came in with each dish to explain what was in each one. Way more ingredients than what I am listing. This was a great dish of Chicken Yakitori. It included chicken skin, spicy chicken liver, Kushiyaki wing & heart with tare. Togarashi which I think was in the liver, yuzu salt, and black rice which was used for the forbidden rice crisp.

Boneless wing or kushiyaki which I really liked. I noticed the guys at the table loved the forbidden rich crisp. If they weren't so fragile I bet they would sell well as a snack at stores. This dish along with the others showed how a chef can add heat to a dish without overwhelming everything. That is something a lot of chefs do not know how to do which is a shame. It really is about balance. Chef Gourdet focus on the components of a dish really stood out here.

Chef Gourdet brought the heat with his Spicy clam broth. Created with smoked pork, scallion, nori and chili paste this was the hottest dish of the night. I really enjoyed the clams which had been seasoned separately from the soup before going in. The pork was well done also. I know several people enjoyed this. The broth was so flavorful it reminded me of ramen.

Saikyo Miso Black Cod with braised walnut in ginger and cider and grilled orange. Chef Gourdet definitely can do fish with fruit. This was the dish of the night. I noticed how quiet it became at our table. Everyone was too busy eating and enjoying. Black cod is one of my favorite fish and next time I cook it I will be using orange or tangerine with it. I'm converted. I can't say enough how wonderful this was. The cod was not overwhelmed by miso yet the skin had a nice saltiness. Everything paired wonderfully.

Following the black cod was Wagyu Beef Sirloin with leek, sunchoke, bourbon barrel aged soy from Bluegrass Soy and I believe a bit of beet. I really do not eat beef but I did just for this. This was quite good but I think the black cod was a tough act to follow plus we were getting a bit full at this point.

Chocolate & Miso Mille Feuille with hazelnut, ginger, and summer plum. Oh my. Along with the black cod, this was a excellent way to end Chef Gourdet's first pop-up meat at Departure. Light pieces of pastry with the hazelnut cream and the chocolate and plum sauces was amazing. I think if we could we would have licked the plates clean.

Overall it was an excellent meal with lovely people and I am definitely impressed by Gregory Gourdet's cooking plus he is a genuinely nice guy. This was a great start to the Compass dining series and I totally recommend it. There are at least two more dinners planned in the coming months. Next is China and then Haiti which is the food Chef Gourdet grew up with so that will be amazing too. I think if they throw in Egypt at some point I would be very much tempted. The Autumn Harvest Vegan dinner also sounds great.

If you want to try one of these dinners or just dine at Departure their website is here.
They are located at 525 SW Morrison St in Portland, OR

If you can't get to Portland you can still see Gregory Gourdet shine on Top Chef right now. Include me in Team GG. Hoping to see him make it to the end because he definitely knows food and how to make it taste great.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Mother Never Cooked Like This

 Portland has so many wonderful older buildings. Often what is inside is just as nice.

Such is Mother's Bistro & Bar. So when friends were visiting Portland we met up here.

One side has a bar area but the better place to dine is under the lovely chandeliers.

We were given nice buttermilk biscuits to start with.

My friend chose Mother's fried ravioli. Their marinara sauce was very nice and the ravioli had a fresh taste. The onions weren't part of this dish but were resting there after leaving the next dish.

 Her husband opted for one of the salads. I am afraid I don't remember which one this was. It may have been a special of the day. He enjoyed it.

I chose another special of the day. Wild mushroom risotto. It was delicious, full of flavor from the mushrooms. I forgot to ask what kind. Very creamy.

We were given three cookies at the end. Unfortunately the server didn't say what they were which might have been a problem since one was peanut butter. The chocolate chip cookie I had was good and so was the third cookie. 

It was a nice dinner. If one is looking for filling food that one-ups typical American cuisine and is a nice place to dine, Mother's Bistro fits the bill.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Water with Nodoguro

I decided since I haven't been out much this summer to see if Nodoguro could spin it's culinary magic a second time.

The theme for October was Water. Since this is Japanese cuisine the first thought is fish. The lovely painting of koi at the entrance also reminds us of this.

A koi mermaid imaginatively seconds that thought. Nodoguro's paintings are created by hostess Irena Roadhouse's father Alexander Kornienko. New ones appear for each theme and they add a lively air to each meal. Also Betta Fish floated in glass around the space and on top of the tables and bar. The decor gave a very nice feel for a watery environment.

Of course water is needed for so many things. The menu for the evening showed we would have more than fish. For without water we would have no plants.

As we were seated our chef Ryan Roadhouse was meticulously preparing the first course, grating matsutake mushroom. Zen was used as a word to describe his work but I think it's that attention to detail that is ingrained with chefs and other crafters in Japan. Every part of what is being created is important and one can spend years doing the same small task over and over before moving on to a more advanced one.

That Oregon matsutake ended up on top of charred Hakurei tofu with ikure. 

Underneath was creamy soft tofu flavored with charred turnip essence. This didn't even taste like tofu but more like milk. The  salmon roe was very fresh. Once again produce like the turnips were provided by Phantom Rabbit Farm.

Not  only does Mark Wooten of Phantom Rabbit Farm grow specialty produce for Japanese restaurants in Portland but he also is Ryan's right hand man in the kitchen.

 Next up was Hirame Usuzukuri which is flounder sliced thinly. Hirame is a seasonal fish served in the Fall and Winter. Ryan's preparation was to serve a slice from the fin and others from the body to demonstrate the differences in texture. This sashimi was delicate and wonderful.

We then experienced a very creative dish that paid homage to the water theme. Orca beans, scallop, uni and water pepper in a nice harmonious pouching liquid. Once again there were the different textures of the scallop added with the softness of the uni. I had never had water pepper before and it didn't take many little buds to bring a bit of spice to this dish.

Water isn't just fish and we were served a root vegetable sunomono. But it was not all root vegetables because there was a smoky seaweed at the base topped with sunchoke, turnip and kiwi berries. I like this kind of imaginative thinking that puts together new ingredients into a traditional dish. It worked really well with the vinegary flavor that sunomono has.

I've had air dried sanma before. I know it can end up being dry and salty. But not this time. Ryan salted and air dried the Pacific saury personally and then cooked it in the restaurant where it was served with citrus and grated karaine turnip from Phantom Rabbit Farm. What flavor! Definitely not dry or too salty. This was the best version of this dish I have ever had. It has inspired me to try cooking sanma soon. Although I know it won't be the same.

Clear broths are often served in traditional Japanese meals and we were able to experience a lovely matsutake osuimono. One thing I have learned is making dashi with different ingredients and getting the right balance is an art. Add in these nice matsutake and it was a treat to consume this taste of autumn.

While we were supping Ryan and Mark were busy plating our next treat.

And treat it was. Duck, soba and chrysanthemun leaves. I rarely eat meat except for fish but the way Nodoguro dishes it up, it's hard to decline. The duck was tender yet chewy and the flavor is another that I remember even today. It was excellent. The buckwheat groats were cooked with a little butter and oil and added an interesting texture and autumnal feeling. I felt like this was a dish one would find at a ryokan in rural Northern Japan. The bit of greens were a nice touch.

A break from the intense flavors followed with sweet dashi omelette. Tamagoyaki is considered a dish all sushi chefs need to master. So it's one way to see if a chef knows what he is doing. I've had a lot of it, some good, some not so good. Anyone who has made an omelette know it's not easy getting that fluffiness without breaking down the egg. Add in trying to achieve the right balance of sweet, salty and umami and you have Tamagoyaki. This time it was achieved wonderfully. Light and not too sweet or salty. I hope some day Ryan will hold classes on how to create this lovely omelette.

Nearing the end but the surprises were not over. We were served a chocolate and filbert beer float. An ingenious little dish suggested by Nodoguro's knowledgeable hostess Irena Roadhouse. Diners around me really enjoyed the effervescence of this chocolate ice cream and  filbert beer float. The bitterness of the beer kept the dish from being too sweet. Of course in Japan it's common to make sundaes out of unexpected things and this worked in an adult way.

The dinner ended with this lovely chestnut manju and a delicious cup of hojicha green tea. A very nice pairing to end this fall dinner.

What can I say? If you love Japanese food and live in the North West or will be visiting it's worth attending one of Nodoguro's dinners. It really is a treat to be able to experience fine Japanese dining, sosaku ryori, without having to fly to Japan. I wish I had tried Nodoguro sooner but better late than never.